Thursday, December 8, 2011

Waiting with the Prophets Dec 4th 2011 Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15, Mark 1:1-8

Waiting with the Prophets

Peace and Grace to you all from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ,

In my exploration on this week’s texts one fellow pastor found it interesting that we began Advent with a Gospel lesson from Mark’s 13th chapter, and this week we hear a reading from the beginning of that same gospel. In his exact words, he told his hearers that it was not a step backward, but rather a move forward—forward to the beginning. I had to chuckle at Reverend Fisk’s treatment of time. In some strange way the more I thought about it, it made sense. It seems to me that during Advent, time does something really funny. Christians all over the world are preparing for a birth that happened just over 2000 years ago. That is exactly what is happening; Advent is not merely a time to get ready for the holiday, but it is a time to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Messiah. During Advent, the story of Jesus’ first coming and the promise of his second coming become intertwined in a way that denies all we think we know about time.
This divine compression of time shows up in today’s readings. Our lesson from Mark’s gospel begins with, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It seems like a good place for Mark to begin his gospel. However as we read on, we realize that where he places his beginning is not with the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. Mark actually begins his Gospel by bringing his hearers all the way back to the prophets.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; [3] the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' "
John the Baptist is then introduced to us as the messenger who was sent ahead. John’s message calling God’s people to repentance is nothing new. It sounded much like the messengers who prophesied about coming Messiah centuries before the birth of John the Baptist. Even his seemingly unique wardrobe and dietary choices are important—only because they connect him to all of Israel’s prophets, people for whom living in the wilderness as hermits was often a part of the task. The job of “prophet” is by far the only position when dressing in camel hair and eating insects actually lends credibility. This connection would have been made by most—if not all—of the people who wandered to the Judean countryside to hear him.
It is a connection we should make as well. This morning we are reminded that we are waiting for the same Messiah on whom the prophets and their hearers waited. When we realize that the prophet Isaiah lived and ministered 750 years before Jesus was born, this seems astounding. How is it that we are waiting with prophets who walked the earth almost 3000 years ago for a Messiah who was born 2000 years ago? Perhaps today Peter had a word for us in this regard:
That with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. [9] The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
Whenever I hear this passage from Peter, I am reminded of a line by Gandalf in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. When Frodo accuses him of being late, his response is “A wizard is never late, nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to.” Peter’s letter today reminds us of two things. First, the thousands of years between the prophet Isaiah and us is merely a blink of the eyes to the God of Eternity. Secondly, this is important: as we wait and prepare for the Lord, He never stops waiting on us and preparing our hearts and minds. As a matter of fact, the acts of repentance that John the Baptizer (and the prophets who went before him) are never something we can do on our own. The very act of acknowledging our need for God’s righteousness depends on God’s guiding presence.
You see, brothers and sisters, God’s will is more perfect and holy than anything we could ever come up with. And as easy as it is to be impatient with what we perceive as God’s slowness (or even absence), we must remember that God keeps His promises. He has promised to be with us yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As we prepare to know God in yet another way, we remember all the ways He has been present for His people.
He was present for Isaiah’s original hearers in the midst of exile—in the words of comfort and hope spoken by His prophets. Also many who came to be baptized by John in the wilderness experienced God’s presence by experiencing firsthand the birth, earthly ministry, death, and resurrection of His son Jesus the Christ.
He continues to be present for us as well. In the words of scripture, we come to know the God of all Creation who humbles Himself so we may be in relationship with Him. As we gather as a faith family to worship, we encounter God in the words of the liturgy and songs—and in the mutual love and support of each other. Moreover, in Holy Communion, we get to taste and see God as He offers Himself as bread and wine for our eternal sustenance.
So in typical Advent fashion, we prepare for the coming of God’s Messiah with all of God’s people that went before by acknowledging the ways that God is already present for us—or rather (recalling Rev. Fisk’s query about the opening lines of Mark’s gospel), we prepare ourselves for God’s future by remembering God’s beginning. May the coming of the Christ-child be a source of great joy and hope this Advent season